Sunday, 23 October 2011


I heart Michel Ocelot. A LOT. When I was a young un' we had a VHS tape at home called Princess and Princesses and it was a collection of 6 fairy tales filmed in this eye-catching black silhouette look - something which obviously sticks in the mind of a child who is used to technicolour cartoons or puppets or live action slapstick. It was different, felt slightly 'edgier' somehow, and the stories were just wonderful. If only I could remember them now! I have searched on and off for years for this series that we had on Video, with only the above mentioned as a reference guide. Because this style of filmmaking is so striking and unusual, it led me to one person - Michel Ocelot: a French director who first started out in Cine Si in the 1980s before moving onto feature films (one of which is deceptively called Princes et Princesses but was made far too recently for it to be the same one). It was Cine Si which my VHS came from. I still can't pin-point the actual stories (one was about an evil king who stole the four winds and trapped them in a bag, ala the Greek myth, and one was about a mountain that was made of jewels - the jewels in their natural colours illuminated against the black shapes. But that's all I can remember!) and I'm not even sure if we still have the tape at home. But something about it has stuck with me, and that's why I was so excited to see Michel Ocelot's new film Tales of the Night at the London Film Festival. I've never seen any of his work on the big screen before, so I was in for a treat - an even bigger treat when I got free chocolate as it was a gala premiere! And because it was a premiere... the man himself was there as well to present the film and do a Q&A afterwards. It was like being with royalty! Unfortunately a lot of the questions were pandered towards the little kids in the audience who obviously ask stupid questions - for the cute factor - but I did love how he said he didn't like 3D but he was just doing it as an extra challenge! The part about "people will give you more money if you say you'll do a film in 3D" was slightly more alarming... But to the film itself.

Tales of the Night actually draws a lot of inspiration from Cine Si by having the film made up into 6 beautiful fairy tales from across the world. The tales are seemingly “invented” by three friends who are working in a closed theatre, throwing out ideas to one another of the stories they’d like to tell, and then using computer images for inspiration and creating the costumes themselves, as two of them are always cast in the tale, which they then perform at night in the theatre under the watchful gaze of a bemused owl.

The 6 stories are:

The Werewolf - a French folk tale about a young man's curse, and the betrayal of two sisters who both claim to love him, but only one of them is true and the other wants him dead. 

Ti-Jean and Beauty Not Known - a Caribbean tale about a man who goes adventuring down a cave only to find himself in The Land of the Dead and an opportunity to gain many prizes if he can pass 3 tests set by the King. This was my favourite story - I just loved how perfectly it came together with all the classic elements of a fairy tale. Plus the ending was superb as well, as the man rejects the prize he wins as he doesn't want to rule the dead and he has a girlfriend back home! tee hee, a touch of the modern. This one was also the prettiest to look at.

The Chosen One of the Golden City – a Central American tale, about a golden city in the Aztecs where a young pretty girl must be sacrificed to a monster to keep the city aground and the people rich in gold. A young traveller takes on the beast and slays it and wins the girl, but are the people really free? Probably the weakest of the six, but was interesting to see how Ocelot changed the original ending of the story - or made the theatre workers change it - because he did not like it and it offered no 'moral'.

The Tom Tom Boy – an African tale about a boy who yearns to play the drums but annoys those around him. One day he saves an old man from a beast, and as a reward is shown how to play the magic tom tom drum, which can make anyone dance. He saves the life of the ill king, and brings peace to the village. The funniest of the tales.

The Boy Who Never Lied – another African tale. An intriguing one this - the theatre worker tasked with playing the princess throws a tantrum as she hates her character so much! A boy’s honesty is tested by a cruel princess who fakes an illness with the only cure being his beloved horse’s heart. Torn by his love and friendship his horse dies for him, and because he can admit this to the king, he has proved he cannot lie and so he can marry the princess. She is ashamed of her trickery, and promises their first child will be lifelong friends with the foal of the horse who died.

The Girl Doe and the Architect’s Son – a classic folk tale of romance! A young man rescues a girl from marrying a cruel evil sorcerer and escapes with her. The angry sorcerer casts a spell to turn the girl into a beast. The man believes she is now a doe, and seeks out the fairy who can turn her back into a girl. The fairy lives in an EGG. Stop right there - she lives in an EGG. This is amazing. The EGG THAT BREAKS ALL SWORDS. The man and his guardian are hounded all the way by a crow who tries to help, and who turns out to be the transformed girl, and she is restored by the man’s love for her. It's a great story to end on.

From the master storyteller, Tales of the Night is an absolute delight, and a great entrée to Michel Ocelot if you've never seen any of his stuff before. If you adore world myths and fairy tales as much as I do and you've never heard of this man before, you seriously need to get on it. He is enchanting, the art is beautiful, and a deadpan sense of humour also enriches the mix of fable and fantasy. A fabulous way to end my festival experience.

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